The quintet, who play string, brass and woodwind instruments, are among the 156 young people who next year will make up one of the most prestigious and well-known youth ensembles in all of classical music. As well as appearing in thrilling concerts at top halls across the UK, where they will play everything from much-loved orchestral masterpieces to adventurous contemporary music and unusual repertoire, they will work to introduce more young people to classical music, becoming an ambassador at a state primary school and performing for teenagers in secondary schools.
Here the young musicians from the city-region introduce themselves and explain what it means to them to be picked for an ensemble which plays on some of the biggest and best concert platforms in the UK.
Who are the Greater Manchester musicians in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain?
The five Greater Manchester musicians who have been chosen for the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain for 2023 are:
Sofia Patterson-Gutierrez - principal flute. Sofia, who is 17 and from Stockport, started playing her instrument after being offered 10-minute taster lessons at her primary school and said making music with larger groups was quickly what encouraged her to keep going. She has now been playing the flute for nine years and goes to Chetham’s School of Music. Sofia also became a familiar face to TV viewers when she won the woodwind final in the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2022 competition.
She said: “Being part of NYO has had one of the biggest impacts on my life - I have made such amazing friendships and it has really pushed me and motivated me to carry on being a musician. I remember shaking sitting in the first tutti rehearsal, blown away by the power and amazing energy surrounding me, which is something I have never felt anywhere else.
“What could have been a really daunting experience was made so enjoyable by other musicians and support staff who made me feel at home. Being part of NYO not only helps me improve as an individual musician, but also helps develop the skills I have learnt in working with others in such a high energy environment.”
Toby Johnson-Jones - French horn. Toby is 17 and from Oldham but originally started out as a musician wanting to play percussion at his primary school. He started playing drums in a brass group but then by mistake picked up a letter for the brass players in the ensemble offering them the chance to play the French horn. The music service allowed him to have a go and he quickly found himself switching instruments.
Toby plays with the Halle Youth Orchestra, the NYO Inspire programme, English Schools Orchestra and Opera North as well as his school and local music centre groups, and attends the Junior Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in Manchester at the weekend.
He said: “I enjoy performing with similarly-minded young people who have a love for orchestral music. I play in local brass bands, swing groups and orchestras. At school, I play in the orchestra, brass band and jazz band.
“I have been a member of the NYO since 2022 and this has really developed my understanding and orchestral playing experience. It is so great to share different knowledge and ideas with fellow musicians on how to ensure that the music is played with focus, understanding and professionalism.
Georgia Paxton - French horn. The second Greater Manchester member of the NYO’s French horn section, 15-year-old Georgia from Altrincham found her playing got a boost during lockdown when she was able to have lessons with Ben Goldscheider, who competed in the BBC Young Musician of the Year. She also spoke about a project which enabled her to use music to reflect directly on current events.
She said: “I really enjoyed performing with Inspire Associates at the Royal Festival Hall, arranging and performing a Ukrainian folk song, Marichka. This was a memorable moment as we had worked hard as a group to create an arrangement that really spoke about the conflict. I found playing it alongside my friends a fantastic opportunity to show solidarity with Ukrainian and other musicians suffering in conflict.
“I benefit so much from being part of the NYO community. Apart from improving my technique, I found I grew as a person and learnt so much about myself and what I am capable of, from working with a group of like-minded musicians and creating a piece and taking it through to performance at a major concert as well as meeting so many young people.”
Kwasi Sefa-Attakora - bassoon. Kwasi, who is 16 and comes from Hyde, started his musical journey in primary school playing saxophone but soon after that discovered the woodwind section of the orchestra and realised bassoon was the instrument for him. He started playing at Tameside Music Centre, where he admits he struggled at first but kept going and developed as an orchestral musician, and also joined the junior department at the RNCM. He now learns at Chetham’s School of Music, which he described as “an amazing experience so far”.
Kwasi said: “NYO is the highest level of orchestral playing I’ve ever done, and it is teaching me the skills I need to become a professional orchestral player.”
Ben Matson - cello. Stockport musician Ben, 16, started out in the Royal Northern College of Music’s young strings programme before moving to their junior department in 2015. He started studying at Chetham’s School of Music in 2017 and currently plays in various chamber groups and the Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra, along with Stockport Youth Orchestra.
Ben said: “At NYO, I love playing music with other people, especially those who are as passionate about what they do as I am. Being a part of NYO further pushes my growth as a musician and helps me become a wonderful orchestral player. I develop my ability to work as a section and an orchestra at NYO. “
What will being in the orchestra in 2023 involve?
The orchestra is going on tour in January and comes to Liverpool on Sunday 8 January for a concert featuring Benjamin Britten’s atmospheric Four Sea Interludes from his opera Peter Grimes, Rift by contemporary composer Anna Clyne and Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, a work which will be familiar to many people as its instantly-recognisable and dramatic sunrise opening has been used many times in film (notably in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) and TV.
The ensemble is also keen to spread the love of classical music among young people, with free tickets for teenagers at its concerts. The musicians will also perform in secondary schools while each musician takes an active role as an ambassador in a state primary school. The NYO Inspire programme will also help teenagers from under-represented backgrounds and state schools progress with their music through the encouragement of peers.
The NYO is also working to make classical music more diverse. In its 2023 ensemble, 50% of the orchestra are from state-education, while female and non-binary musicians take 61% of leadership positions across the orchestra and 29% of its musicians are Black, Asian or from other ethnic minorities.